April 16 2004, The Halifax Herald Limited

Society suffers from Santa syndrome

AFTER much soul-searching, I've concluded the long-held view that Santa Claus doesn't exist is absolutely wrong. This conclusion was reached after reading stories published in newspapers and magazines, and after seeing many more on television, about the hope of many inhabitants of the richest nations of getting goodies that their governments don't have funds for.

The stories outlined people's expectations of new governmental expenditures on goodies. In my estimation, such conduct confirms that these people have a steadfast belief in Santa. If so many believe, can there be any doubt about his existence? If you believe I've come to the wrong conclusion, dispute the following.

A few weeks ago, I read a newspaper story about a large group of Germans protesting their government's plan to instigate welfare reform. They were doing so in spite of the pragmatic reason that their government deemed reform a necessity: widespread unemployment caused by huge financial deficits.

In fact, if dramatic measures aren't taken soon to cure the malaise, the world's third largest economy could be heading for ruin. But as there aren't any other avenues to consider for funding, one has to conclude that Germany's citizens have an astonishingly firm belief that Santa will arrive to save the day!

Ironically, it could be said that financial collapse has a positive side. If bankruptcy should occur, welfare reform won't be needed because a bankrupt nation can't finance social programs. The protesters, the ones who need welfare assistance for survival, will be the ones hurt the most.

At home, federally, and in several provinces and municipalities, public servants are looking for more money. Now, if you've been keeping track of this country's financial affairs, as I have, you're probably asking yourself: Where is the money to come from? Santa, of course!

Seriously, no levels of Canadian government have any funds available to finance new programs, enhance programs, give raises to public employees, or for anything else. They, with the exception of Alberta, are broke! And they will remain so until such time as draconian reform measures are undertaken to retire horrific debts and bring public expenditures into the realm of affordability.

Now, before anyone goes into denial and hauls out the argument of a "federal surplus" to finance mounting expenditures, let's remove the blinders and take a realistic look at the so-called federal surplus. The long and the short of it is: It doesn't exist. The only reason the federal government has a bit of money left over annually, which it applies towards minimally reducing the national debt, is that it has cut everything it can to the bone.

For instance, the Armed Forces have been especially hard hit by the federal treasury's "robbing Peter to pay Paul" philosophy. Although staffed by professionals who are second to none, their numbers have been reduced to a police force level. And much of the equipment they labour with consists of antique military museum pieces.

This sad state of affairs is beginning to make us look like easy pickings around the world. It's hard to deny this in light of the fact that tiny Denmark is laying claim to one of our small Arctic islands.

In the future, what happens if other countries lay claim to more? Do we blow bubbles at them? Maybe we could get a few helicopters up to do battle - that is, if we can find a few that can still fly. Or, as we often do now, we could ask other countries to lend us military equipment. Will we continue down this path until we also have to borrow soldiers?

To overcome our country's financial woes, taxes cannot be raised any higher because the poor, who are now carrying a disproportionate share of the load, cannot afford it. And increasing user fees is just another way to tax the poor to support the more affluent.

Thus, the only option left to finance wage increases for public servants is to further reduce the public service. But one wonders who among them is willing to sacrifice their excellent paying jobs so that their peers can get even higher pay? If given the option, I don't believe there would be a long lineup to do so. In any event, police forces, medical personnel and other vital services are understaffed now because of inadequate funds.

The same scenario applies to social programs. The cupboard is bare.

This raises the question: How did we get to this state? The answer is simple: through the performance of political parties. The decades-old games they've played, using our tax dollars to try to win or keep political power, are the reasons the country's untenable financial position exists.

There is a better way. The Nunavut territory has already vetted it: abolishment of political parties. It works well. During elections, candidates run for seats in the territorial legislature. Then, from among their numbers, they elect a premier, who forms a cabinet from among the remaining members. Using this method, those who can manage public affairs the best, instead of the most charming individuals political parties can select, lead.

Daniel N. Paul


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